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Saturday
Jul302011

Bad luck in Bolivia, a rant

This has nada to do with food, well very little, but I feel like having a rant and this is my forum, ok? If you are a happy go lucky kind of person, glass half full, who never whinges or whines then I suggest you stop reading now. I could look on the positive side of life – I am travelling one of the most beautiful continents on earth, I have no job to tie me down, the beer is cheap, the food is cheaper and the sun is shining. But as it is I feel like having a good moan, indeed it is one of my favourite past times. If you share this trait, read on! And, if the feeling takes you, have a rant of your own the comment section. It´s your forum, ok?

1. Tour of Salar de Uyuni

I had been warned that agencies running the Salar de Uyuni tour could be very hit and miss; that is putting it lightly. Myself and my new found friends, Tina and Adrian, did our research; we spoke to several agencies and looked at reviews online. None of us got a good feeling from the woman in La Torre tours, and it is a wonder we still went with them, but they had numerous and recent reviews and we figured we wouldn't have much to do with her once on tour.

We told the lady at the agency that if she found a fourth person we would be glad to have them to bring down the price, but that we were not keen for any more because I had read that it would be really cramped in the jeep that way. We got a call from the woman later that evening saying she had “more information”. Surprise, surprise, she wanted us to go with five.

“This British couple, they really want to go with you. They begged me.”

“You did jack to accommodate for us,” I wanted to say, “I don’t believe for a second that you give a shit about them either. It’s bums on seats for you.”

Instead I said “It’s not really our problem.”

After much back and forth we said “Sorry, but no” and when we saw how cramped the jeep was with all our things in it we were glad of it.

On the first night our guide, Juan Carlos (who will henceforth be known as Juan Carajos), asked the group to get out a map and “discuss” the itinerary. What he really wanted to do was to change it. Thank God two of us spoke passable Spanish or it would have been a very different trip indeed. In short he wanted to skip the volcano, which we had specifically requested, and move the Salar to the final (half) day. The Salar is clearly the most important part of the trip and I explained that a half day would not be enough.

 At the Isla del Pescado Juan Carajos sent us off to get our entrance tickets. I was confused.

We have to pay?”

“Yes.”

“But the ticket says it’s included.”

“I don’t understand.” (Sure, sure)

“The ticket, it said it was included”

“What ticket?”

“This one.”

Fortunately I still had the ticket in my wallet on which was printed in capital letters and highlighted in green: “INCLUYE ISLA DEL PESCADO”

“Oh, that ticket. I see. OK, I’ll go.”

Yet another time I was grateful for my Spanish.

After some fun messing around on the Salar we headed very slowly over the wet part of the flats towards Volcán Tunupa. The reason they had wanted to change the itinerary was because they were worried about the effect of the excess salt water on their vehicles. On route Juan Carajos launched into a diatribe about how he could not believe the agency agreed to this, how he was so worried about his jeep and how he would not be able to clean it for another night, all making us feel very uncomfortable. And then came the big one:

“Perhaps it would be better to return to Uyuni tonight?”

What? This would mean missing the volcano and cutting our trip short by one day. I reasoned with him that there was not much point since we were almost there anyway. But when we arrived it turned out there were only 5 beds (and 8 of us). How convenient.

The boys kindly offered to share their beds, top and tail: “Five beds, lets make do!” I suggested this but Juan Carajos, clearly rather pleased with himself, said the dueña would not allow it. Pleased with himself until he realised an angry lady on his hands and her Spanish improves dramatically when she’s frustrated.

“¡Eso es una mierda, Juan Carlos!"

Literally “this is a shit, Juan Carlos” but actually like saying this is the biggest pile of absolute and total shit you have ever seen.

“Why haven’t you made plans? You knew we were coming here. Did you do this on purpose?”

“I can’t do anything. They are full. There are more people than usual.”

“Well, that is not good enough. We will share if we have to.”

“The dueña won’t allow it. You talk to her if you want to.”

“OK, I will!”

I don’t think he was expecting that.

Another fortunate trait of mine is that when I am frustrated I cannot help but get a tear in my eye – it has come in handy over the years. “Which relative this time?” my Dad always used to ask when I left crappy bar jobs in which I had barely lasted a week. And true to form when confronted with the dueña out they sprang and rapidly she changed her tune. On one condition. Boys with boys. Girls with girls. No funny business. Fine.

So we got to do our volcano and we had a fun night getting pissed with the boys. When we arrived in Uyuni two hours ahead of schedule the following day we soon found out why Juan Carajos had been so keen to get back to Uyuni. No sooner were we out of the car and out of sight (he thought) than he was ushering another group of innocent travellers into his jeep and off to the Salar. I sure do hope they could speak a bit of Spanish.

Now this might come as rather a shock, but I do feel the need to say at this point that visiting the Salar was a fantastic experience. As you can see from the photos the scenery was spectacular, even Juan Carajos could not put a downer on that. This and the people we did the tour with made it all worthwhile. But, like I said, I feel the need for rant, so if you don’t mind I shall press on…

2. Bus to Sucre Potosí

After one last session with the boys in Uyuni and a night’s rest, Tina, Adrian and I headed for Sucre. Well, that is until it turned out that a group of locals had chosen that day to protest about the state of the roads (which it is worth noting were far superior to many others I have travelled in Bolivia).

We had only been on the bus two hours (the full journey was nine) when we were stopped unexpectedly while the locals put rocks and bits of trees in our path. This part is important because the fact that they were putting them on the road when we arrived means that we could very easily have crossed the road rather than politely stopped and allowed them to block our path.

Two hours later and the bus got very hot and sweaty indeed.

Three hours later and the kids started crying (don’t blame them).

Four hours later and it was well passed lunch time. We were hungry, tired and fed up.

Five hours later, just as the bus had taken a unanimous vote to return to Potosí, and the locals finally decided to let us through.

The bus driver stopped a few miles down the road in what would presumably have been our lunch stop, only it was now dinner time. The ladies were not expecting this late onslaught and it was utter chaos as every man and his dog tried to get one of the few remaining portions of piccante de pollo (spicy chicken stew). Of course, being gringos we were not one of the lucky ones and had to make do with fried egg and rice.

By the time we arrived in Potosí it was far too late to continue on to Sucre so we spent a rather restless night in the highest city in the world. Great time for a blocked nose… but onto that next.

3. Sick in Sucre, the most beautiful city in Bolivia

Sucre really is stunning. What a pity that I spent almost every day I was there under the weather . The cold got worse on the first night. So bad that I had what was perhaps my first alcohol free night of the entire vacation and, faced with one of the most interesting menus I had seen in Bolivia, all I could stomach were three cheese and ham toasties. That at least was most very welcome; jaffles in Bolivia, who would have thought?!

Two nights later – Friday – I was feeling marginally better and in the mood to make up for lost time. Mistake.

Neither myself nor Adrian can remember getting home that night, but thankfully Tina was our saviour and get home we did. After a quick glance around the room at 10am to check I got home with all my things – yes, thanks again Tina – I slept through till 3am and then only got up cause I was going to be sick if I didn’t drink some water. Unfortunately in Bolivia this is not as easy as running to the tap. It means going out and buying water. A task I was not particularly happy about, but I reasoned that I should probably eat something as well.

Finding something plain to eat in Bolivia is one hell of a task – they eat meaty stews, chicken feet, chorizo and meat pasties for breakfast – but I had in mind the perfect place. Ham and cheese jaffles, here I come.

The next day, after a further fourteen hours sleep, I should really have been feeling better. But for one thing. Something I ate.

“Oh poo!” said my Ma, in her adorably English manner, when I mentioned it to her.

“Yes Mum, lots of it.”

(Sorry I realise this is a food blog and that is probably uncalled for but this is the reality of Bolivian cuisine).

Two days on the loo and I was fit for travel once more. Well, just…

4. Buses don’t get better

If it isn’t hot, sweaty and stationery, it is bumpy and cold.

So bumpy in fact that a two litre bottle of water fell from the overhead compartment on route and landed on my head, waking me up and splitting my lip.

Holding a tissue to my face to stop the blood I tried to get back to sleep but it was impossible for the cold. So I shivered all the way to Cochabamba not brave enough to beg the person next to me for a corner of their blanket (he smelt funny and was snoring, what a combination).

5. Ripped off

At some point it is going to happen. Speaking Spanish helps but it isn’t enough to ward off the inevitable.

Tired, grumpy and with a lip like a goldfish, I clambered into the first taxi that came my way, not asking beforehand how much the ride would cost.

Double price and a half for you stupid gringo. What are you going to do now you are here? Pay it, that’s right!

And just to put the nail in the coffin the bastard gave me a fake note. I should have checked them more carefully, but it was 6am and I had had a rough night with little sleep. All I wanted to do was get my sorry ass into bed.

6. My map of the world

And just when things are beginning to look up – I can eat again and the food is oh so good and plentiful – an allergy.

A big one.

All over my body in fact.

Big, red, pink, itchy blotches.

Everywhere.

Well, almost, I have been spared some of the more sensitive areas. Thank God.

And I chose this day to take all my most comfortable, loose fitting clothes to the cleaners.

In fact, I am sitting here with my blue t-shirt tucked into my scratchy hiking trousers, which I have unbuttoned for comfort, and no bra; too itchy. And did I mention my face? Yes, I could well be a third degree burns victim.

What the kid next to me must think. Thankfully he is too interested in his game of Warcraft to notice the pink, blotchy and potentially pervy (pants undone) gringo next to him.

Don’t get me wrong. I have actually had a great time in Bolivia. These things are mere inconveniences. I was still wowed by the Salar. I still enjoyed those sausage sandwiches I ate for breakfast despite their consequences. I was still blown away by the whitewashed elegance of Sucre. I still think Cochabamba is the most multifaceted and dynamic city I have yet visited in Bolivia.

I just like having a moan, ok? And if you’ve got this far, I’m guessing you do to. Please do share.

At least I haven’t been robbed… yet.

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Reader Comments (3)

Allergies, stomach bugs and rip offs .... oh the joys of travelling . From the photos you'd never guess the suffering !! Really looking forward to your food blogs when you have access to internet again.

August 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterma

FAB pix, esp. the Salar. I did huge travels in Asia way back, so I know you can't believe sometimes the utter beauty of the landscapes and the thrill of being somewhere so out of it, and yet you can feel like crap and be upset. And sometimes it is just that you cannot bear to be ripped off yet again, standing your ground with the likes of taxi drivers when all that you want is a clean toilet and bedsheets without bugs (which might have been the allergy BTW, just mentioning). It swings way better, you are just on the travel cycle, its up and down. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSkyler

Hi Ma, yes I know the photos are somewhat contradictory. Like I said though, I still had fun despite the hiccups.

Thanks Skyler. Yes, I thought it might have been the bed sheets at first but then it kept spreading after I left that hostel and the pharmacist seemed to think it was a food allergy. I haven't done Asia yet - it is definitely next on my list, namely for the food.

August 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterVix

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